Inside the Actors Arena
When we last checked in with Terry Kiser, the vibrant, ageless acting veteran best known for his portrayal of Bernie Lomax in 1989’s Weekend at Bernie’s, the recent Austin transplant was registering names for the first youth class at his newly formed studio, the Actors Arena. Evidently, the first round went quite well.
So well, in fact, that Kiser’s already plotting out registration for the next round, which opens on Monday, Sept. 9 and runs weekly until Oct. 28. The 2-hour-per-week class, offered for 10–12 youths between the ages of 7 and 15, centers around the same ideals as Kiser’s two adult classes: Acting is a craft, not a series of memorizations, and actors must understand that success arrives when they truly embody the character, and don’t just treat themselves as a vessel for delivering the character’s lines.
“It’s not playtime,” Kiser says. “It’s something very special, and you have to take it seriously.”
Which isn’t to suggest that you’re not allowed to have fun. As Kiser explains, there’s a lack of inhibition within kids he’s seen so far that doesn’t show up in his adult-oriented classes. It’s that lack of inhibition, the 73-year-old actor suggests, that allows children to better embody themselves within a scene.
“This one kid, fabulous actor, he’s doing a scene with this girl, and all of a sudden, he reaches under his jacket and pulls out this flute, blows on it, and puts it back in his jacket before going on with the scene,” Kiser remembers. “You say ‘Jesus, I wish I could do that as an adult: to have the freedom to just keep going.’”
Those not so quick to capture that freedom may be suited by Kiser’s teaching technique, which puts a priority on filming scenes taken from movies they recognize or ultimately should.
“We’ll watch the scenes, and then we’ll talk about them. The other day we watched a girl’s scene, and after talking, she said: ‘I need to study better. I’m not still. I have to be still, I have too many leaks.’
“This is perfect. These kids are utilizing what they see, and that’s what’s amazing: Nobody can get through to you like yourself.”